CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — A postal worker and her husband are using their own money to start a six-bed transitional house for women getting out of prison.
The women will start moving in today.
"I have met the best and the brightest of a generation sitting in jail," said Cay Jadoobirsingh, founder and president of Esther's Place Ministry. "They have so much to give but got hooked up with the wrong guy or the wrong lifestyle."
Esther's Place is where women can take back their independence from drug addictions and unhealthy habits, the 52-year-old mother of two said.
The home, called Sojourner's House, has been seven years in the making.
Jadoobirsingh got the idea one night when fighting to stay awake while working second shift at the post office. Her friend Loretta Findley helped keep her alert by whispering to her about God.
At the time, both women were single moms struggling to work while raising their children. Both also realized that other moms were in the same struggle without the benefit of a postal worker's pay. Jadoobirsingh wondered how single women survived while raising more than one child with minimum-wage jobs.
That concern led to the creation of Esther's Place Ministry, and Sojourner's House is only the first part of the project.
The name Sojourner's House has a dual meaning. First the house is named after Sojourner Truth, a black abolitionist and women's rights activist, said Jadoobirsingh. The name also means a temporary stay, where women will grow, then move on to a new life, she said.
Jadoobirsingh married in 2003, and her husband supported her vision. He bought her another building for the ministry in the 3800 block of Dodds Avenue and the plan is to turn it into a community education resource center. Next door to the proposed center is a vacant lot, and the Jadoobirsinghs are soliciting contractors to build voluntarily a 34-bed homeless shelter and help finish the community center.
Judson Jadoobirsingh renovated Sojourner's House, a former duplex, but had an accident with an 18-wheeler that left him unable to finish construction on the community center or start work on the shelter.
"We need people to come alongside of us and partner with us," he said.
Today, six women who were incarcerated will begin living at Sojourner's House. The goal is to use Christian education and the love of God to help the women see themselves differently, the Jadoobirsinghs said.
"When you give back their self-worth, they can accomplish anything," Judson Jadoobirsingh said.
Cay Jadoobirsingh uses the name Esther's Place Ministry because she wants women who are at a low point in life — like the biblical Esther, an orphan who rose eventually to be a queen — to see themselves as queens.
Cay Jadoobirsingh said she believes God wants the women to feel like queens, too. Everything in the house was donated, but it all matches to provide a place of serenity and elegance, she said.
For the first 90 days, the women will go through Christian education classes led by program director and Chaplain Heidi Drew, who will stay at the house during the day. Joyce Knox, a musician at Second Missionary Baptist Church, will be the dorm mother at night.
Women coming to the home must have a letter of recommendation from their unit managers and prison chaplain, Drew said.
The goal for the first three months is for the women to work on their heads and hearts, Cay Jadoobirsingh said. She wants them to have a time of healing before they started looking for jobs or pursuing GEDs, she said.
After that, the ministry starts the push to get the women off welfare, into jobs and standing on their own two feet, she said. After the women find jobs, they will be expected to pay rent at Sojourner's House.
The women will live in the house for a year. Judson Jadoobirsingh said he hopes cars will be donated to the ministry so the women who complete the program can be given a car to help them get their new life started.